ISSUE 42  |  Dark Shadows

Garden Visit: At Home in Brooklyn Heights with Artists Maria Robledo and Holton Rower

October 23, 2014 4:00 PM

BY Lindsey Taylor

How do you design a garden for two artists who have a highly attuned sense of the visual? When I met photographer Maria Robledo and artist Holton Rower, about six years ago, they were about to move into a beautifully renovated brownstone in Brooklyn Heights with their two young daughters. They wanted a garden that would feel playful and personal and be full of surprises through the seasons.

Located on a quiet block, the brownstone was designed so the entire back wall, on both the parlor and ground floors, opens to the yard. The property was a blank canvas except for two small volunteer sassafras trees. At that first meeting, we talked about what kinds of plants and colors they had seen and loved, what they thought they didn’t like, (conifers being one, but in the end a large Pinus strobus ‘Contorta’ became the feature tree for the front garden, after we visited a nursery together), and their one rule: no boxwood. They also knew they didn’t want a tall fence to isolate and close in the yard. Rather, they accepted the fact that they had neighbors and settled on a low, antique-style decorative wire fence that does little more then delineate property lines.

Many have had a hand in the garden’s creation. Holton laid out a curvy stepping stone path; garden designer Jessie LeBaron creates stunning seasonal containers and more, and Maria spends many hours caring for her plants and seeking out new treasures. For me, it was a wonderful opportunity to create a garden for people who wanted to garden and learn about new plants and combinations. (See more about the design process at Lindsey Taylor Design.) They are owners who appreciate the ephemeral and see the details.

Over the years, we have added and taken away as the garden evolves. For instance, when neighbors cut down trees, it drastically changes the light conditions and causes us to start from scratch or move plants around. Throughout its growth, the couple has embraced and loved the evolution, not worrying over what hasn’t made it, but instead cherishing the moments that work and inspire. Maria, has a natural way with arranging flowers, and throughout the year she takes cuttings for her personal photographic work and to fill their home. The family is truly living with their garden, having blurred the lines between the outdoors and indoors, as much as one can living in the Northeast.

Photography by Maria Robledo.

The Front Garden:

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Above: The front stoop.

One of the first things we planted was the vine on the railing. Gelsemium sempervirens ‘Margarita’ is one of my favorite vines because of its early fragrant, yellow tubular flowers and its elegant dark glossy leaves that turn a beautiful color in fall.

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Above: The view from the street. The Pinus strobus ‘Contorta’ is the center of attention with its interesting curling needles. A  mix of clematis and native honeysuckle spill over the railing.

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Above: I kept the palette for the front minimal, sticking to greens and white for the most part.

I wanted it to feel like a textile of leaf textures weaving together. In the corner of the bed is a very graceful shrub, Viburnum pragense, which is underplanted with epimedium and white flowering Zephyranthes candida.

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Above: A plum-colored plant combination of Heuchera ‘Fire Chief’ and Wiegela ‘Wine and Roses’.

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Above: Hellebore and Vancouveria hexandra in the front garden.

The Backyard Garden:

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Above: A view of the back garden, looking toward the house in early summer.

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Above: A view from the parlor and kitchen floor, looking down on the garden, shows how a more formal terraced area leads up to a looser stone path.

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Above: A favorite purple leafed shrub in bloom; Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’ in the back garden.

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Above: Digitalis and other vertical plants such as nicotiana and verbascum, add height in contrast to the looser habit of other perennials and shrubs.

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Above: Maria’s famous bunny Cornelius (whose antics are chronicled on her Instagram feed @MariaRobledo), is known to enjoy a jaunt through the garden.

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Above: A wonderful tree for smaller gardens, Styrax japonicus was added in the first phase of the garden. Its early summer flowers fill the garden with fragrance and its small dark green glossy leaves are a good contrast to the larger leaves of the sassafras.

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Above: A captured moment of sea kale blooming, with deep purple leafed heucheras.

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Above: Vines play a big role in this garden. Here another favorite, Parthenocissus henryana, was planted in a high trough with ferns and hellebore and has now climbed up to the bedroom level of the house.

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Above: I kept the plant palette simple on the terrace off the bedroom, as a break from the more densely planted garden below.  A long planter filled with Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’ and a large container filled with Eden climbing rose and star jasmine can be enjoyed from bed.

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Above: One of Maria’s spontaneous late summer arrangements of pink Japanese anemone, with the foliage of Amsonia hubrichtii and Farfugium japonicum ‘Crispatum’.

For more inspiration from Brooklyn Heights, see our recent posts: